You Need a Great Product Image

You Need a Great Product Image

James Martin-Harper |

If you can design your product so that it embodies a visual hammer, you can have a huge adventure in the marketplace. Being first, of course, is particularly helpful. When you are first, a distinctive design is living proof of leadership in the category.  With so many brands in every category, the leading brand is unlikely to be the “best” product.

In spite of much evidence to the contrary, many marketing people assume the leading brand is the better product. In the consumer field, for example, Consumer Reports, one of the few independent organizations that exhaustively tests products often finds that secondary brands are clearly superior to market leaders. In its coffee tests, Mcdonald's surprisingly beat Starbucks on taste.  What makes a brand a winner is a perception that it is the leader. It’s a battle of perception rather than a battle of product quality.  As the market leader in high-end coffee, Starbucks is perceived by consumers to be better than the other coffee brands. In an emerging category with many brands fighting for a share of the consumer’s mind, the brand that gets in the mind first and establishes a leadership position is almost impossible to dislodge. Whether or not the brand was actually first is irrelevant, think Kleenex tissues, Heinz ketchup, Hoover vacuum cleaners. 

Take words versus visuals. Words are weak. They’re not memorable and they lack credibility. Conversely, visual hammers are memorable and emotional. It’s odd. Exaggeration works in visuals but seldom works in verbal's. The words, “Ralph Lauren is the brand that polo players wear,” would generate nothing but yawns among consumers.  On the other hand, the polo-player visual which communicates exactly the same thing is a powerful device. It says that Ralph Lauren is the upside brand, the leader in the category. Visuals are powerful because people tend to believe what they see and are sceptical of what they hear. Typical remark: “I know it’s true, I saw it with my own eyes.” A visual hammer creates visibility for a brand far beyond what can be achieved by words alone.

Have you ever seen the new Nissan Leaf? They will be hard to see because they look the same as every other small car. It’s too late to redesign the car, but what Nissan could have done is produce Leafs for the first year in a single colour. My choice would have been “electric green.” A simple step like this would have cost Nissan nothing. Yet, having all Nissan Leafs on the road in the colour “green” would have greatly increased “street visibility” for the Leaf brand. With a name like “Leaf”, what better colour could you use? You may think “earl adopters” of the vehicle would complain about the lack of choice. But I doubt it. Why did they buy a Leaf in the first place? It’s not to save money; it to make a statement. “Look at my car. I care about the environment.”

Your product can sometimes look different. It’s not just what prospects think of your products; it’s also what everybody else thinks of your product that matters too. Social pressure, amplified by social media, plays an important role in what brands consumers buy or don’t buy. People make statements with the brands they choose. They often want everybody to know what those brands are. But in some categories, it’s difficult to create a visual difference. You could make a man’s dress shirt look different, but what man would want to wear a different-looking dress shirt?

Years ago, the creator of a candy-mint product made a deal with a manufacturer to press the mints into shape. But the manufacturer found the pressing process worked better with a hole in the middle. Hence the brand name Life Savers and the verbal slogan “The candy mint with a hole.” A short time later, Life Savers was the No.1 mint-candy brand in America, a leadership position it has held ever since. With such a mighty hammer, you might think it would be easy to take the Life Savers brand into other food and candy categories like gum and fruit punch. As a Life Savers executive said at the time: “Our consumers dialogue indicates that the Life Savers brand name coveys more than merely ‘candy with the hole.’ It also means excellence in flavour, outstanding value and dependable quality.”

"A visual hammer is not a sledgehammer. A visual hammer is more like an upholstery hammer with a narrow head.”  Visual Hammer / Laura Ries